Dun Mountain Trail
Dun Mountain Trail is one of the must-do walks or rides in Nelson. The trail follows the alignment of the historic Dun Mountain Railway, New Zealand’s first railway, which was in operation between 1862 and 1901 to transport chromite extracted from mines on the eastern slopes of Wooded Peak. The trail ventures through the dramatic landscape of the Dun Mountain ophiolite belt, which is characterised by stunted vegetation and reddish-brown soil and rocks. Traditionally a great day walk, the trail is now an increasingly popular biking circuit, its appeal stemming from the fascinating landscape it traverses, as well as its achievable length and ability to be completed from central Nelson. Dun Mountain Trail also forms part of the route to Rocks Hut and Te Araroa Trail.
Dun Mountain Trail can be completed as a full 37.4 km circuit (via Tantragee Saddle), or in sections. As it links with many other tracks in the surrounding ridges and valleys, many routes of varying length and difficulty can be created. The three main sections of the trail are Brook Valley to Third House, Third House to Coppermine Saddle and Coppermine Saddle to Maitai Dam. Given the length of the trail there are multiple locations you can start from.
A full circuit of the trail is best rode in and anti-clockwise direction, i.e. starting in the Brook Valley, as you can take advantage of the gentle gradient of the former rail alignment which allows for an easier climb than what you would encounter trying to climb from Maitai Dam to Coppermine Saddle.
Please note that the trail is used by both walkers and bikers. Bikers should always be aware of the presence of walkers and should always give way to those on foot.
Starting from Brook Valley
For those driving to the start point, the car park at the beginning of Tantragee Road is the best place to leave your car. From here you can either go up Tantragee Road, head back down Brook Street to the start of Codgers Track, or climb the walkway that heads straight uphill from the car park to link with the trail. See map.
Starting from Maitai Valley
There is a car park at the Maitai Valley Road end before the dam. This the best place to start if you are looking to do a return trip to Dun Mountain summit or Coppermine Saddle. It’s also a good place to be dropped off if you have transport.
Alternatively you could begin at the Maitai end of Tantragee Road, at the car park next to Maitai Motor Camp. This reduces the total distance of a full circuit as you won’t need to bike the whole way down the Maitai and back up the Brook Valley (or back over Tantragee Saddle) to return to your car.
Brook Valley to Third House
You can begin by heading up Codgers Track, which follows the historic rail alignment. This will take you along the bottom of Codgers MTB Park and nearly to the top of Tantragee Saddle (2.6 km). Alternatively you can begin at the car park at the start of Tantragee Road, where a walkway climbs uphill for 1 km to link with the original rail alignment.
The trail steadily gains elevation along the western slopes of Fringed Hill, passing through plantation forestry and gullies of native scrub. As the track follows the rail alignment the gradient is gentle. At Bullock Spur there is a good lookout and picnic spot, and at the head of the following gully (Cummins Creek) is the site of First House. After 4.5 km the intersection known as ‘Four Corners’ is reached.
After Four Corners the trail enters beech forest and continues on the uphill side of the Brook-Waimarama Sanctuary fence. The trail passes through a few railway cuttings and the site of Second House. Third House is reached 4.3 km beyond Four Corners, on a point on the ridge once known as Wairoa Saddle. The existing shelter is not the original building; the latter was used as a workshop for the railway and a depot for stores. Third House is also the connection point for the sanctuary fence line road, which you can follow through to Jenkins Hill and Marsden Valley.
Third House to Coppermine Saddle
Beyond Third House Dun Mountain Trail continues through beech forest. Junction Saddle (682 m) is reached 1.1 km from Third House, where the rail alignment meets the ridge. This marks the start/finish of Black Diamond Ridge Track (giving access to Sunrise Ridge).
Wooded Peak Track continues southeast from Junction Saddle, climbing Wooded Peak (1111 m) and Wells Ridge, and linking back with Dun Mountain Trail at Windy Point. See Wooded Peak
Soon after Junction Saddle the site of an 1863 lime kiln is passed. The kiln extracted limestone from an exposed formation that the trail crosses (the same one associated with Maitai Cave to the north and the outcrops on Mt Malita to the south). The site of Fourth House is 3.1 km beyond Junction Saddle and soon after the beech forest gives way to the sparse tussock and scrub of the mineral belt.
Windy Point (845 m) is reached a few hundred metres later, where Wooded Peak Track connects from the left. The stunted vegetation allows expansive views across the mineral belt. Most of the mines were located either side of the walkway between Windy Point and Coppermine Saddle, the most obvious surviving evidence of which are the spoil piles. The trail crosses several rock chutes, with many boulders positioned precariously on the uphill side of the track. Look out for the surviving railway sleepers along this section.
Coppermine Saddle (878 m) is 1.1 km from Windy Point. Here there is a track junction that gives access to Dun Saddle, Dun Mountain summit, Rocks Hut and Te Araroa Trail. There is a toilet and a signpost indicating the times and distances to the next locations. Coppermine Saddle is the furthest point the railway was constructed to; the furthest mines were located in Travers Gully on the eastern side of Wooded Peak.
Dun Saddle and Dun Mountain Summit
See Dun Mountain Summit for more details.
From Coppermine Saddle, a track continues climbing for 20 min to Dun Saddle, giving access to Dun Mountain summit and Rocks Hut.
Note that if you’re climbing Dun Mountain Trail from the Maitai Dam end, there is a signposted fork in the track not far before Coppermine Saddle. Here you can choose to head left to Dun Saddle, rather than heading right to Coppermine Saddle. This is the best way to access Rocks Hut and Te Araroa Trail.
Coppermine Saddle to Maitai Valley Road
From Coppermine Saddle the trail descends through a small patch of beech forest and sidles the western slopes of Dun Mountain. The surrounding vegetation is stunted and densely growing, and includes kanuka, lancewood and snow tussock. The old trail between Maitai Dam and Coppermine Saddle was best described as a ‘rock garden’ with large boulders, deep ruts and drainage channels on the trail edges making for a technical and bone-rattling descent. Several years ago the trail was smoothed and realigned to reduce the steep gradient, which now sees it flowing through numerous zig-zags as descends into the gully of the Maitai River South Branch. Bikers should be very cautious of walkers through this section. As the trail descends to , the vegetation transitions from mineral belt scrub to Kanuka forest and then into beech and ferns. Cross the footbridge over Maitai South Branch where Maitai Cave track connects on the left. Continue through beech forest alongside the river until the trail widens into a 4WD road and opens into scrub. Peaking Ridge Track connects on the left (it is not signposted) and Bob Taylor Road soon after. From here it is an easy 1 m back to the footbridge across to Maitai Valley Road car park.
Adjacent to the Maitai Dam there is a footbridge that crosses the river to connect with the car park at Maitai Valley Road end. You can follow the Pipeline Track on the true left of the Maitai River to Smith’s Ford (3.8 km), before following the road for the rest of the distance down the valley. Alternatively you can cross the footbridge and descend the Maitai Valley via the road. The road isn’t very busy but care should be taken nonetheless. If you are riding the whole way down Maitai Valley to central Nelson, Maitai Valley Road is a better option than Maitai River Walkway as the latter is narrow and often busy with walkers.
Dun Mountain Railway – Wikipedia article
Dun Mountain Railway (1862-1907) – The Prow article
Maitai Valley, Nelson – The Prow article
Brook Valley History – Brook-Waimarama Sanctuary website